Second chance for Olson

Times Staff Writer

Ben Olson in, Patrick Cowan out.

If there is a silver lining for UCLA to its revolving door at quarterback, it is that the injuries have been spaced out.

Cowan, who started Saturday night in place of an injured Olson, will be out at least three weeks after suffering a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Olson, meanwhile, has been pronounced physically fit after experiencing headaches and nausea last week, though the Bruins will have to wait until Saturday’s game at Oregon State to find out whether his game has mended.

Behind Cowan’s erratic yet at times effective play, the Bruins scratched out a 44-31 victory over Washington on Saturday. Cowan’s creativity pushed the Bruins along on scoring drives until he was injured early in the fourth quarter.


“We definitely need to see that from Ben, from an improvement standpoint,” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “I know he is disgusted with how he played in the Utah game. I know he’s working hard already, trying to get himself ready to have a great game.”

Olson followed up a tremendous opening game at Stanford with two mediocre performances, one in the 44-6 loss to Utah on Sept. 15. He threw five touchdown passes in the 45-17 victory over Stanford but none in his two games since and ranks 69th nationally in passing efficiency.

“Now is his chance to get back in there and keep leading this group,” Dorrell said. “He understands to bring up his game a little bit.”

But, Dorrell said, “He’s not, ‘Oh I’m worried about it.’ He’s more excited, ‘Hey, this is my chance again. I saw what happened, let’s go get it fixed.’ ”

As to how Bruins players will react to yet another change at quarterback, running back Kahlil Bell said, “We got to protect him, we got to believe in him, we got to trust him. You got to know he’s your leader, so whether it’s Ben or Pat, whoever the guy is taking the snaps and breaking the huddle, we need to look at him like this is our guy, this is who we’re going to ride with.”

Olson’s job could be made easier if the running game is as effective this week as it was against the Huskies. Chris Markey gained 193 yards and Bell had 109 as the Bruins rolled up 333 yards on the ground.


But approximating that level of productivity may prove difficult against Oregon State, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation against the run, giving up only 29.5 yards per game.

“Right now, they’re playing as good a defense as there is in the conference,” Dorrell said.

The Beavers, though, are not the issue, according to Bell.

“If we can go out and establish ourselves and be physical from the jump, we can just grind teams,” said Bell, who is third in the Pac-10 in rushing at 110.5 yards per game. “Then we come back and throw the ball, too. That’s pretty hard to stop.

“It’s all in the mind-set. Once we get the mind-set that we are the best team in this conference, that we can run the ball, that we can pass the ball, that we can do anything we want to do at will, then we’re going to be a pretty good team.”

This will be the Bruins’ first game in Corvallis since 2002. Dorrell has not gone there as a UCLA head coach or player.

“The last time I was there was 1999, when I was the offensive coordinator at Washington,” Dorrell said. “We won.”


UCLA has lost five of its last seven road games, a disturbing trend that is somewhat understandable to Bell.

“When you go into other people’s houses, you’re going to get their best shot,” he said. “When you go in someone else’s house, you’re not just going to go eat in their refrigerator and take their TV. That’s how those teams feel. We’re coming to disrespect them in their own house.”

Wide receiver Gavin Ketchum is out this week, though X-rays on his sprained right ankle were negative.